Polygamy (Plural Marriage)
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. At certain times and for His specific purposes, God, through His prophets, has directed the practice of plural marriage (sometimes called polygamy), which means one man having more than one living wife at the same time. In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890. Since that time, plural marriage has not been approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any member adopting this practice is subject to losing his or her membership in the Church.
-Taken from LDS.ORG
It was a hot day in late June, the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City wasn't crowded, and the animals were surprisingly active. I packed lunches for my sons and myself. We enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a picnic table while watching zebras play. I chose a table away from the others, that was in the shade and clean. As we were eating, a man and woman wheeled their disabled adult son around us to a table that was more secluded than ours. They prepared their son for a tube feeding, and fed him. I watched my sons, interested in their reaction. It didn't phase them. They smiled at the three-person family, happily ate their sandwiches and enjoyed the rearing zebras.
As we walked around the zoo, I noticed some young men wearing jeans, long-sleeve, button-front shirts and wide brimmed hats. The Hogle Zoo is near a historical park where employees wear "pioneer" clothes. At first I thought the young men were from the park, but then I noticed their contemporary shoes. Then I saw them join several young girls, a few women and one man. They were an FLDS polygamist family. On occasion I see sister-wives shopping for groceries and I'm aware of a few polygamist homes where I've seen women and children milling around, but I've never seen an entire FLDS family together in public. I was fascinated. I wanted to follow them, watch them, eavesdrop, take pictures, and ask questions.
Coincidentally, we happened to be on the same general path around the zoo so I was able to observe this family for nearly an hour. I was not following them, I was following my kids. It was serendipitous.
What I noticed...
The Girls: They ranged in age from preschool age to late teens. They all wore the classic FLDS dresses and had long, beautifully braided hair. They were pretty little girls, all fair-haired or red-haired, and freckled. They looked healthy and happy, spoke freely to one another, their brothers, mothers and father, and moved about the exhibits with the normal pace and excitement of any child. Some of the older girls had digital and video cameras. They never looked at or seemed to notice another human being. It was as if people were invisible, or insignificant, like a tree or a bush. Aware of it's location, but able to maneuver around the object without looking directly at it.
The Boys: They too ranged in age from preschool age to late teens. There were fewer boys than girls, and a couple of the older ones had rugged good looks, and working hands. Their coloring was like the girls, and again, they were all attractive, looked physically healthy, talked and laughed with each other and their family members, and displayed unabashed excitement and pleasure while viewing the animals. Their long sleeve shirts were buttoned at the collar and their hats looked like something Tom Sawyer would wear. The only visible skin, like the girls, was their hands and their faces. They also did not look at another person outside of their family. Not once.
The Father: He was dressed like the boys except his hat looked like a pith helmet. He was a red-haired man, not nearly as handsome as his sons, and built like... Rush Limbaugh. His face resembled Ron Howard's, almost soft and appealing, with an expression that I read as both melancholy and content. He may have been 45-55 years old. He stayed close to his wives and occasionally he bent down to listen to something a young child wanted to say to him, giving the child a smile and a pat. He looked at the animals, but he was watching people. I believe he was constantly taking in the surroundings as the protector of his family.
The Women: I saw four wives. They were dressed like the girls, hair elaborately braided with high bangs, but these weren't pretty women. They looked middle-aged, tired and frumpy, although I can't honestly say that they looked unhappy. Their faces likely betrayed their age. They were probably younger than they looked. The kids all appeared so physically healthy with rosy cheeks, nice teeth and bright eyes. The women, in contrast, all had 20-40 pounds to lose and looked like the kind of women who are busy taking care of everyone but themselves. Two of the women had digital cameras and were snapping pictures of the animals and the kids. Just like the children, none of the women looked at anyone outside of their family.
My Sons: They seemed oblivious to this family. Other zoo visitors were clearly curious, and I was both surprised and pleased to see how discreetly people tried to satisfy their curiosity. Glancing at one of the family members quickly, resisting the urge to stare. My boys didn't even steal a glance. At one point Toddler Child was in the midst of several little FLDS girls, darting from exhibit to exhibit. He moved their skirts out of the way if he couldn't see an animal. I nearly hurt myself trying to take a picture of Toddler Child looking at a crocodile with the girls. To preserve the kids' identities, I'll only share this one.
I don't know why this family was in Salt Lake City at the Hogle Zoo on an afternoon in late June. They may have been in town for reasons associated with the Warren Jeffs trial. I'm not aware of FLDS members "vacationing". The children I saw that day appeared healthy and happy. Almost typical in their behavior. Their future is predictable unless they exit the faith. We know the end of the story. With the recent attention on the Lost Boys and the practice of marrying underage girls [something the FLDS sect has renounced], perhaps their future will be... I don't know... better? not so bad? Their world is so radically different from ours that it's difficult to imagine.The father of this family seemed content and proud of his beautiful children and devoted wives. I'm convinced he believes he's traveling a righteous path.
To think about this entire family, their beliefs, the obviously hard-working boys, girls, women and even father, their clothing on a hot summer day, wondering if the boys would ever have a chance to marry, knowing none of them will marry for love... in total left me feeling still curious, and uneasy. But it was the faces of the women, those women, that disturbed me the most.